Nine years ago, Barack Obama returned to Hyde Park for a visit after being elected president of the United States. A lot has changed since then, but one thing remains constant: the change-makers Obama surrounds himself with.
On November 1, I was blessed to have the opportunity to spend an evening with both Barack and Michelle Obama, Chance the Rapper, Lin Manuel-Miranda, Nas, Gloria Estefan, and many more inspiring artists and social leaders to celebrate the kickoff of the Obama Foundation in Hyde Park. The opportunity to see a president and former first lady show so much love and passion for Hyde Park, and to see the incredible individuals who are working to shape the future of Chicago, inspired me to take a night off from midterms and recruiting to refocus on why I am here.
The night’s focus was to celebrate and inspire the young people who have worked towards changing the world by rolling up their sleeves. It was a joyful expression of diversity, in terms of people, cultures, approaches, causes, and music.
The concert started with a rousing performance by Andra Day, singing her hit “Rise Up,” dedicating it to the leaders in the audience, and setting the stage for what we were about to experience. After the performance, Chance the Rapper and Michelle and Barack Obama took the stage to welcome the audience, and formally close the summit.
“It is good to be home,” Michelle Obama said. “We went to Hyde Park High School, and one young man asked me a very important question: why did you pick our neighborhood to locate the foundation? I said, the question isn’t why would we be here in Chicago on the South Side, but why not?
“Chicago has an amazing array of resources,” Michelle went on. “We have great organizations, we have great faith-based leaders, we have strong culture, we have music, we have talent, we have history, we have organizing, (and) we have beauty. So why wouldn’t we want to put that laboratory on the South Side and use all those resources?”
The concert and Michelle’s words made me think about the words we pass every day along the stairs in the Harper Center. “Why am I here and not somewhere else?” Events like this are why I chose Booth.
Chance continued to surprise us with guests throughout the night, including Aziz Ansari, Nas, Brandi Carlile, The National, Lin Manuel-Miranda, and Francis and the Lights. Between each act were stories of the 400-plus young individuals chosen to participate in the two-day summit. There was one common theme throughout the varied performances: change.
The energy in the crowd was like nothing I have ever experienced. People were happy, and inspired, and befriending strangers sitting around them. I met three phenomenal new Boothies that evening in an environment outside of study groups or recruiting events. The first few months at Booth have been exhilarating and prodigious, but they have also been like drinking from a fire hose. Amidst our busy schedules, it is sometimes easy to forget to look around and appreciate the beauty of it all.
Boothies Sukriti Nayar, guest blogger Kelsey Zehentbauer (me), and Surbi Luhadia
Chicago is a phenomenal city, Booth is an incredible community, and I am thankful to the Obama Foundation, the Office of Civic Engagement, and the Rustandy Center for the opportunity to take the time to appreciate and reflect on my Booth experience thus far.